An Indonesian company linked to the worst haze on record in 2015 is shaking up its operations. The move comes amid criticisms from environmental groups over Asia Pulp and Paper's (APP) policy of planting on carbon-rich peatlands, as well as its lack of transparency.
Yesterday, the Sinar Mas Group - APP's parent company - announced that Mr Bernard Tan, 50, a former Singapore military general, has been appointed APP's managing director for corporate affairs and sustainability, and country president for Sinar Mas in Singapore.
Mr Tan took on the new roles on June 1. He was previously marketing head at ST Engineering and had served for 22 years in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), retiring with the rank of brigadier-general.
Sinar Mas is a conglomerate with subsidiaries in energy, land and communication technology sectors, among others. But its agribusinesses in pulp and paper and palm oil production have been on Singapore's radar, as fires on their plantations led to the haze here.
Mr Tan, who is fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, will take care of sustainability-related issues, among other responsibilities. He said: "Despite firm no-burn policies and government regulations, the haze has proven to be a complex issue...
"A lasting solution will require cooperation between industry, governments and people. APP has made significant advances over the past few years in terms of addressing the problem of haze."
He added that he is "cautiously optimistic" about the haze situation this year.
Yesterday, Mr Tan said APP is setting up a new fire audit team, which will be tasked with reviewing the firm's concessions and those of its suppliers. It will assess the readiness and effectiveness of APP's programmes to combat haze, such as blocking canals to re-wet dry, flammable peat.
Many concession lands in Indonesia are on water-logged peatland, which is not conducive for growth of pulpwood or oil palm. When drained for plantations, peatland becomes flammable.
Mr Tan is familiar with being in the hot seat. In April, he was part of the team which contested and won the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) council elections. He is now the FAS deputy president.
Yesterday, he addressed some burning issues surrounding APP.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) said in March that APP had not provided enough information to the Singapore authorities investigating the fires under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.
Mr Tan said: "The NEA investigation is continuing, and we are engaging them." He could not comment as NEA's probe is ongoing.
He has also visited APP's largest and newly operational mill in South Sumatra, flagged by environmental groups for being able to produce more pulp than stated.
"I think the queries deserve a response... and I'm prepared to give one as soon as we make sure we get our details and facts correct."
Singapore's anti-haze group, the People's Movement to Stop Haze (PM Haze), welcomed APP's new initiative. PM Haze executive director Zhang Wen said APP should invest in research to find tree species that grow well on peatland.
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Bernard Tan says 'immediate target' is haze issue str.sg/4RPS